Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a “Frankenstein’s Monster,” borrowing parts of past Summer of Arcade games to breathe life into a brand new Summer of Arcade game.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is sort of like Frankenstein’s monster. It borrows some of the best parts of previous Summer of Arcade releases to make a fun and enjoyable Summer of Arcade title for this year.
Take the silhouetted visual style from last year’s Summer of Arcade title Limbo, lose the grays and the graininess and soft lighting, sharpen it up a bit and add some really bold and bright colors to the mix. Then take the Metroidvania style of gameplay and exploration from Shadow Complex. Finally, add in the twin-stick shooter controls of Geometry Wars 2: Retro Evolved. Mix it all together and what you end up with is a really beautiful and fun game with its own personality!
For those who may not be familiar with the so-called Metroidvania gameplay mechanics, it’s essentially a platform style game that focuses heavily on exploration, but parts or paths of the map may not be accessible without a later-acquired weapon or item. It’s a linear style of gameplay that is disguised as an open-world environment, but your paths are clearly restricted until you obtain special items.
You control a lone spaceship, whose bright and colorful planet has been infected with a dark and menacing “shadow”. The tendrils and spikes of the shadow’s grasp on the planet in the foreground is a stark contrast to the soft and colorfully gradient backgrounds.
As you explore the area, you will acquire new additions for the “arm” of your spaceship. You’ll start off with a simple scanner that not only helps you identify friend from foe, but even gives you pointers as to what item you’ll need to overcome certain obstacles. The second power-up you’ll earn is a gun, which then opens up the game’s 2D-platformer- meets-twin-stick-shooter control mechanics.
You’ll also acquire items like the claw that grabs and holds onto objects and can pick up and move rocks, a massive saw blade that can cut through certain rocky surfaces, and remote-controlled missiles. As you explore the world of the shadow planet, you’ll also find upgrades for your spaceship’s offenses and defenses.
The inventory is represented as a radial menu with your various tools and weapons. Each item can be selected from the radial menu, or you can add a map a controller face button to for quick-access.
Unfortunately, you’re restricted to only being able to map 4 shortcuts at one time. While most areas are pretty good about not throwing too many varieties of obstacles requiring more than 4 different items, it does start to become a hassle when you have to try to recall, during tense situations, which button was mapped to which item.
Of course, you can switch to the radial menu and make your selection from there, but once you hit a face button activating another item, you’ll likely want to make a choice of whether or not it’s worth mapping that item to a button, and if so which button and item do you give up?
The inventory management, while I spent a lot of time complaining about it, it’s not that bad. It just doesn’t feel as intuitive as it should be.
Like most Metroidvania games, you will find yourself backtracking through a lot of areas. This is where your mileage may vary. I personally like the open exploration of these style of games and finding new and hidden areas. The game has an excellent mapping system, and uses visual indicators to help guide you to areas of interest as well as point you to a main objective that will move the game forward and grant you new inventory items. I never felt lost or didn’t have to try and remember where a particular path or unreachable new item was, as everything is clearly labeled on the map once you discover it.
There are “safe house bubbles” which also act as check points between areas. They are close enough where the game doesn’t feel too difficult, but still far enough apart to provide a challenge. These bubbles protect you from enemies and also restore your health.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet tells its story through visuals – primarily cinematic cut scenes and visual queues. Sometimes this is confusing when you know what you think you’re supposed to do, but just can’t figure out how to do it. In these instances, you’re generally “locked in” the area, which means that the solution is in there with you somewhere, and you won’t have to aimlessly backtrack the world for that one overlooked item or path. When the time comes to really put on your thinking cap, use all of your items to find the solution — don’t underestimate the usefulness of the first power-up, the scanner.
In addition to the single-player campaign, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is also features a cooperative mode called Lantern Run. In Lantern Run you and four other people, either locally or via Xbox Live, must try and move a lantern from one part of the world to the other, while a massive beast is in pursuit. One player will act as the shepherd, using the crane to move the lantern, while the other ships will act as escorts clearing the obstacles and enemies from your path.
While the combination of twin-stick shooter controls, Metroidvania’s gameplay and exploration, and the artsy visual stylings of a brighter and more colorful Limbo might sound a bit strange and confusing at first, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is actually really fun and really enjoyable.
If you’re still not already sold on the idea, definitely check out the trial version, because it may very well change your mind.